Millennial Masterpieces #11: Alexisonfire – [Watch Out!]

Welcome to Millennial Masterpieces, where I’ll look back at a great album released within the past 17 years and see what its legacy is. Eleventh in the series is the single best piece of Canadian post-hardcore ever recorded, Alexisonfire‘s Watch Out!.

Released: June 8, 2004

To be fair, there was never much competition in the Canadian post-hardcore scene. A quick scan of the artists in that scene at the time reveals that the closest any band came to Alexisonfire‘s throne was Silverstein. Dallas Green and his band of not-so-merry music makers were both creatively and commercially the high water mark for “screamo” in Canada, and this record stands as their best because it’s a snapshot of the moment they realized the power they had.

They’d later streamline their sound even further, fitting all the elements within traditional song structure on their 2006 breakthrough Crisis, but it was on this 2004 record that they were at their strongest. Not yet fettered by radio expectations but also no longer an underground act, the quintet made an album that was professionally produced but still retained the atmospheric feel of their first album.

It was really a simple formula: Dallas sang, George Pettit screamed. Back and forth they’d go, Dallas providing the melody and George the energy. Though the sound had been largely developed on their self-titled debut, it was here that they tweaked it for maximum payoff. The screaming had to be at least somewhat understandable if angsty teens were going to quote it; it also had to be dialed back a bit for Dallas’ mournful tenor to be heard.

The obvious backbone of the band has always been those lead vocal melodies. In addition to being a talented singer, Dallas Green had the gift of writing strong hooks that all his peers lacked- Canadian or American. Post-hardcore didn’t exactly light up the charts south of the border either, with Underoath coming closest to mainstream appeal but never quite breaking through. Dallas’ singular voice was very much the reason for much of Alexisonfire’s success, and it’s on Watch Out! that it becomes apparent. Nobody else sounded like that, and removing him would leave you with a talented but largely indistinguishable act. Dallas Green was the gateway that connected the punk world and the mainstream world, and it was here that he proved it.

He’d grown immensely since the early days, and on this record even got a whole song to himself (“Sidewalk When She Walks”). Mind you, this was before City and Colour was a thing, so nobody was expecting this level of prowess after the first album where he’d only piped in occasionally. Suddenly in between George Pettit’s serrated shrieks there was this moody voice totally unlike the nasally punk from before, and the interplay between the two disparate voices created a unique brand of hardcore unheard of before then.

Adding to that was the fact that the whole album was bathed in reverb. The lush “It Was Fear Of Myself That Made Me Odd” takes this to literal extremes, with the first segment of the song devoted to the topic of diving in the Pacific Ocean. Cryptic lyrics are all over Watch Out!, vague but just accessible enough for the poetic punk fans of the band. “What/ a great day to stay indoors,” Dallas sings on the similarly reverbed “Happiness by the Kilowatt”. That line could be about anything, but can easily be turned into a ~very deep emotional sentiment~.

“Accidents” may not be the greatest song on the album but it was a great choice as the first single, acting as a solid bridge from the first album to this one. It’s an almost 50/50 split of the two records’ sounds, and segues naturally into the more expansive material. “No Transitory” is the best song from the album, a piercing barrage of full-throttle guitar riffs. It’s followed by the melancholy “Control”; both are endlessly replayable because the band plays to each member’s strengths.

That’s really true of all of Watch Out! The guys knew they’d stumbled on a weapons grade formula and deployed it effectively, leveling the Canadian hardcore scene in the process.

Top Three Tracks: “No Transitory“, “Happiness By The Kilowatt“, “Control